In Panthers’ loss to Patriots, QBs Walker, Corral struggle running Carolina offense

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Panthers quarterbacks PJ Walker and Matt Corral are on two completely different trajectories yet both were the only two signal-callers to play in Carolina’s 20-10 loss Friday night at Gillette Stadium.

Walker started and alternated quarters with Corral. Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold did not play, nor did about 30 other veterans after the starters and second-teamers got a lot of work during joint practices with New England.

After the game, Rhule said the team is not ready to name a starting quarterback.

“Not yet,” Rhule said. “Like I said all along when we know, we know. And we’ll announce something when it’s right.”

On the field, Corral bounced back early, going 9 of 15 for 58 yards after completing 1 of 9 passes in his NFL debut last week in Washington. But he exited on the team’s final drive after his foot was stepped on. He did not return, and left the locker room in walking boot.

Carolina Panthers rookie quarterback Matt Corral (9) warms up prior to a preseason NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Friday, Aug. 19, 2022, in Foxborough, Mass. Corral left the game in the fourth quarter with a foot injury.
Carolina Panthers rookie quarterback Matt Corral (9) warms up prior to a preseason NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Friday, Aug. 19, 2022, in Foxborough, Mass. Corral left the game in the fourth quarter with a foot injury.

“He looked sharp early, athletic, completed balls,” Rhule said. “Those are invaluable reps for Matt to be down there, you know, there’s going to come a time where he’s going to have to lead a drive coming out of someone else’s end zone with the with the crowd being like that.”

Walker — who is likely auditioning for another team once the team name’s Mayfield its starter — did not do much to impress coaches and general managers around the league.

He completed 8 of 15 passes for 107 yards and two interceptions. He accounted for one three-point drive inn his five series. Walker started the first and third quarters, and Corral handled the second and fourth.

“Two bad throws that got away from me,” Walker said about why he walked off the field frustration. “With the situation that I’m in, I cannot afford to have those bad plays.

Things did not start fast for Walker. His first drive was a three-and-out. He threw two incompletions before the team punted. He completed his first pass in the next series, a 19-yard deep route to receiver Keith Kirkwood.

After two D’Onta Freeman runs, Carolina moved across midfield and into field-goal range. But the Panthers lost 24 yards over the next three plays, including two 10-yard sacks and a false start. Carolina again punted after failing to convert a third-and-24.

Sparked by a 21-yard pitch-and-catch to Giovanni Ricci, Walker led Carolina to points on his third series. The drive took nine plays, covered 55 yards and was capped by a 27-yard Zane Gonzalez field goal.

Corral did not lead Carolina to points in his seven drives. At halftime, Corral was 6 of 10 passing for 28 yards. In the fourth quarter, he was protected by (from left to right), Dennis Daley, Mike Horton, Cade Mays, Deonte Brown and Austen Pleasants.

Corral struggled to play in rhythm throughout the fourth quarter. On his fifth series, he nearly threw an interception to Patriots cornerback Jack Jones on a pass intended for Derek Wright, but it was dropped.

Carolina Panthers running back Chuba Hubbard (30) tries to get away from New England Patriots linebacker Raekwon McMillan during the first half of a preseason NFL football game Friday, Aug. 19, 2022, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Carolina Panthers running back Chuba Hubbard (30) tries to get away from New England Patriots linebacker Raekwon McMillan during the first half of a preseason NFL football game Friday, Aug. 19, 2022, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The play of the game came via free agent cornerback Tae Hayes. The USFL alum, who signed with Carolina in the middle of camp, intercepted Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe and returned it 50 yards for a TD. Hayes sat on a hitch route and easily intercepted the late throw.

Hayes’ score was Carolina’s only touchdown of the game.

The team will not update Corral’s status until later this week. After the game, Walker was asked if he wanted to be traded or released to help his chances of making another team.

“That’s not my decision to make,” Walker said. “I’m here so that’s all that matters. I’m present here.”

Carolina is starting to see injuries pile up. Receiver Terrace Marshall did not play Friday though the team was hopeful he would. He has been battling a lower leg injury for three weeks.

“We need Terrace to start practicing,” Rhule said. “We need him to step up. We need Terrace to to get back because he was having a great camp until he got hurt.”

Carolina heads back to Charlotte this week for practices at Bank of America Stadium ahead of its final preseason game Friday against Buffalo.